The Reel Music Festival 31 continues tonight with two very unique and completely different films, intersecting with their focus on fame.
Fame is a funny thing. While the Sex Pistols did everything to express exactly what they wanted to express, mainstream be damned, they also were musicians looking for an audience, making recordings, and selling something. There are a number of films and documentaries about the Sex Pistol’s flash to “stardom,” their disdain for it, and how the band dealt with this inherent contradiction. The role of their arrogant manager, Malcolm McLaren, is spoofed this film, "The Great Rock 'N' Roll Swindle" (UK, 1980), which screens tonight, Thursday, Oct. 17 at 7:00 pm.
Directed by Julien Temple ("Absolute Beginners"), this is a hilarious mock documentary told from the point of view of Malcolm McLaren, and includes live footage of the Pistols. It spoofs McLaren's conceit that he was the creative force in the band along with the reason for its success.
The thesis of this film is that McLaren manipulates the band members in order for him to get rich and create chaos. He preaches a 10-point-plan to ensure the band is hated by all and thus a money-maker. There are not nearly enough performances of the band. Sid’s performance of “My Way” is worth waiting for. Just saying.
This film is a narrative on the world of entertainment and how it interacts with the culture and politics. It is a look into how the 70s punk rock movement rose up, capturing the attention of many, expressing voices of the downtrodden, then disappearing. Isn’t this part of its meaning and mystique? And hasn’t it lived on in some sense in restylings by Green Day, The Offspring, The White Stripes, and others? In some sense it has, but the music of that time and place stands alone.
That being said, the film is only a glance into punk rock. But, it shows the raw energy of the music and why it became so powerful to its audience in its time and place.
The film opens with a noir-type style, cuts to a performance, and includes some clever animated sequences and montages. To me, the music footage is the highlight of the experience. It is all pretty grainy, but the mixture of actual footage with the mock documentary, animation, and other mixed media results in a film worthy of its audience.
Also tonight, Thursday, Oct. 17, at 9:00 pm is Ken Russell's "Lisztomania" (UK, 1975), a bizarre look at the life of Franz Liszt (Roger Daltrey) as a pop star of his time, including screaming female fans and serial romances. Ringo Starr is the Pope, and Paul Nicholas is Richard Wagner, the commander of an army of children and ultimately Hitler himself. There's even a Nazi Frankenstein.
This film is over-the-top, a mockery of the period piece, and either wildly hilarious and/or highly offensive. It opens with Liszt and a lover being caught-in-the-act by her husband. She and Liszt are bound together inside a grand piano and placed on train tracks. A train barrels towards this crypt of sorts, whistles blasting. A dream -- or symbolic of Liszt’s life (or this film) as a train wreck?
There is lots of bawdy humor and hanky-panky and more than enough exaggerated phallic imagery to get the point across. This film clearly is a man’s fantasy.
Daltry as Liszt playing chopsticks on a Liberace-style stage is hilarious but gets old, especially because of the repetitive crazed applause and adulation. What can you do but laugh or be horrified?
Liszt socializes with, among many, the vampiric Richard Wagner / Hitler who eventually sucks Liszt’s blood for his own jealous purposes. Wagner’s demise is quite peculiar, and if there were any doubt as to what he represents, it is clear at his death.
The film is visually a delight for the eyes, and the music (as arranged by Rick Wakeman) can be quite enjoyable at times. Once the film settles down a bit, the blending of the rock-and-roll with the classical aesthetic becomes more pleasing. Liszt’s redemption, which involves death, angels, a spaceship, and the destruction of Hitler, is, of course, a perfectly proper ending to this strange film. If nothing else can be said about it, “Lisztomania” stands alone and expresses a unique vision and style of Ken Russell.
Both of these films screen at the Whitsell Auditorium (Portland Art Museum), 1219 SW Park Avenue. These tickets are from $6 to $9 and can be purchased at the theaters a half hour prior to screening times or online at the website for the Northwest Film Center.